Known in the entertainment industry as the Alphonse and Gaston Routine (named after the "Alphonse and Gaston" comic strip by Frederick Burr Opper), this is a comedy trope from the days of vaudeville. It's when two characters are overly polite to each other, often in a bumbling way and almost always done comically. Often these two will be of a lower class but wish to dress and act in an upper-class manner and therefore take things to extremes. Often one will offer the other his arm if they are walking somewhere together, especially someplace fancy. Almost Always Male, occasionally with Homoerotic Subtext.
Often this routine involves a door or gate the pair will need to walk through, each of them insisting the other goes first (and eventually they both do simultaneously, and collide). The resulting deadlock is sometimes called a Canadian Standoff. This can also often lead to long lines of increasingly impatient and irritable people forming behind both characters who start urging them to get on with it. Occasionally the intent will be that neither really wants to proceed first, or at all, wanting his partner to endure whatever horrors might lie beyond the door first.
Since the comic strip originated in 1901 and was quickly also picked up in vaudeville routines, this trope is Older Than Television. In modern times, however, this has become a bit of a Forgotten Trope, though it still occasionally crops up.
Compare Politeness Judo, where this is being done as part of a passive-aggressive fight. May involve Outhumbling Each Other. Bantering Baddie Buddies often combine this with being Faux Affably Evil. See also Japanese Politeness. Inverted Trope of Vitriolic Best Buds.
- Gaston Lagaffe has a strip where Fantasio encourages Gaston to be more polite. This leads to a major traffic jam when he and another car driver refuse to go first into a street, blocking up every car behind them.
- Achille Talon has one where both continuously insist the other go first, but here the stalemate goes on until they're both late, leading to a Big Ball of Violence. Amusingly, this came about after Achille read a book on etiquette, and it turns out the other guy was the author.
- Alphonse and Gaston themselves are the Trope Makers.
- On Mutts, Mooch and Earl do this over a cream puff that Mooch found on the ground. They eventually take too long and the Guard Dog eats it instead.
Earl: Darn. I hope that puff was rotten.
Mooch: It was.
- An Old Master Q strip has Old Master Q encountering one of his old friends in the street. They start with friendly if somewhat formal greetings (first a Western handshake, then the traditional Chinese clasped hand salute) but it eventually escalates all the way to the two having produced prayer mats, incense bowls, and candles out of nowhere, beseeching each other as though they were the Jade Emperor.
- Robin Hood (1973) has Robin and Little John doing this when they reach a log over a stream. They then proceed to both go first, knock each other off and fall in the water.
- The Three Stooges often did an overly-bumbling version of this whenever they wish to attempt to blend in with high society.
- The Blues Brothers: Jake and Elwood invoke this trope when they go into Mr. Fabulous' restaurant, taking each other's arms.
- Hope and Crosby had been known to invoke the trope on occasion in their Road to ... pictures.
- The Marx Brothers give a nod to the trope in the Napoleon scene of the 1923 film, "I'll Say She Is". In it, Groucho (as Napoleon) calls for his "faithful advisers, François, Alphonse and Gaston."
- There's a joke about two frogs who are about to enter a kitchen but say "After you, Alphonse; No, after you, Gaston." (It's a reference to the French love of frogs' legs.)
- There is a joke about a woman who's worried her child might take after her excessively rude husband, so she has some hypnosis treatment during her pregnancy. When the time comes, she has difficulty giving birth. The doctors check her womb... one guess what they hear from the twins inside.
- One story in Mr. Midshipman Hornblower has Midshipmen Hornblower and Kennedy going through a variation as Kennedy relays a message to Hornblower that the Captain needs to speak to him. The two take turns addressing each other formally and bowing politely in jest (it's midway through a very uneventful watch), and they only cut it short when one of the Lieutenants notices.
- A non-comedic use is found in The Initiate Brother. Due to the high value placed on politeness and courtesy, it's common for people to be this with their friends (or even non-friends). Lord Shonto sometimes gets tired of it, especially when there are more important things to be doing.
Shonto [thinking]: We are at war - there is no time to sit and drink wine and fabricate lies about the great esteem our ancestors felt for each other.
- This was Brother and Sister Bear's plan for dealing with Mama Bear's Politeness Plan in The Berenstain Bears Forget Their Manners. Instead of just being polite, they tried being super polite in an attempt to annoy Mama Bear by acting so over-the-top polite that she'd get fed up and call the whole Politeness Plan off. It backfired because, instead of annoying Mama, they ended up forgetting the whole "super polite" part and ended up starting to be regular polite without thinking about it.
- This poem from Victorian times ("The Pink of Politeness", by M. Helen Lovett, 1882) suggests that the trope is even Older Than Radio:
The tailor and the elephantWere going to a ballThe tailor took his goose along,The elephant a shawl.The tailor, bowing, said, "Go first;The road won't do for two.""Oh no," replied the elephant;"I'd rather follow you."The tailor and the elephantStood bowing there 'till night;For each to take the precedence,You see, was too polite.The ball went on without the pair.Perhaps I may be wrong,But I believe they kept their stand,And staid [sic] there all night long.
- Ralph Kramden and Ed Norton were sometimes this to each other in The Honeymooners... until Ralph would lose his cool, anyway.
- In The Avengers (1960s), Mr. Steed and Mrs. Peel were often overly-polite to each other, in a very flirtatious way.
- The "Double Date" episode of The Office (US), Dwight and Andy perform this routine for differing motives based in politeness.
- Vladimir and Estragon in Waiting for Godot behave in somewhat of an Alphonse and Gaston manner, both deciding they should leave at the end of each act but neither one moving, apparently waiting for the other to act first. (A homoerotic subtext is also implied in the play.)
ESTRAGON: Shall we go?
VLADIMIR: Yes, let's go.
(they do not move)
- Warner Bros.' "Goofy Gophers", Mac and Tosh, are the Trope Codifiers.
- Tom, Jerry and Butch the dog do the routine in the 1948 short, The Truce Hurts.
- Avatar: The Last Airbender: Aang and Sokka act like this briefly in the episode "The City of Walls and Secrets", as they are trying (and failing) to behave like high society folk. In the end they bash their heads together from a contest to see who could bow better and end up on the ground with a headache. Aang ends up under the curtain he was using as a robe. Toph says the two would be lucky to pass as busboys.
Toph: [Burps.] I learned proper society behavior and chose to leave it. (throws the half-eaten pastry to the side) You never learned anything. And frankly, it's a little too late. (she picks her nose and flicks the snot off her finger)
Sokka: (excitedly) Aha, but you learned it! You could teach us!
Aang: Yeah, I'm mastering every element. How hard could manners be? (Aang grabs a nearby curtain and puts it around himself like a noble's robe, and talks in a very sophisticated manner) Good evening, Mr. Sokka Water Tribe, Ms. Katara Water Tribe, Lord Momo of the Momo Dynasty. Your Momo-ness. (Momo peeks at him from under the carpet and slightly bows)
Sokka: (stands up also wearing a curtain like a robe, mimicking a typical high class person) Avatar Aang, how do you do? Go on. (Aang bows to Sokka, and Sokka, trying to out do Aang's bow, bows back; Aang tries to further out do Sokka's bow with a deeper bow and Sokka returns this bow with an even deeper bow; both of them then try to bow at the same time, but they knock each other's foreheads' together and fall down)
Toph: Katara might be able to pull it off, but you two would be lucky to pass as busboys!
Sokka: But I feel so fancy! (Toph's snot falls on Sokka's forehead)
- Chip 'n Dale (the first animated shorts, not on the ReTooled Series, where they acted more like Vitriolic Best Buds), act this way towards each other, always praising each other, and trying to give the other the opportunity do first whatever mischievous act they were up to.
- Baloo and Kit have one of these moments in one episode of TaleSpin.
- Family Guy: The "Even Couple".
- In the Aqua Teen Hunger Force episode, "Multiple Meats", Shake splits Meatwad in half with a sword. The two Meatwad halves survive, and pull this routine going into the front door of the house - for several seasons (as we see sun, rain, leaves and snow fall while they continue "after you"-ing each other), driving both Shake and Frylock crazy.
- Spoofed in Ed, Edd n Eddy, where Kevin and Eddy do this routine while going somewhere, but they say "after you" while slamming the other into the ground in front of them.
- When two rival countries or politicians are being overly diplomatic to each other, it's often said they are "doing an Alphonse and Gaston routine."
- Sportscasters have also used the term "Alphonse and Gaston exchanges" during baseball broadcasts, when two outfielders go after the ball and it falls in between them for a base hit.
- Shirley Jackson used Gaston's catchphrase as the title of her short story, "After You, My Dear Alphonse," published in the January 16, 1943 issue of The New Yorker.
- Four-way stop intersections can occasionally evoke this.